Stan Kenton’s last successful experiment was his mellophonium band of 1960-1963. Despite the difficulties in keeping the four mellophoniums (which formed their own separate section) in tune, this particular Kenton orchestra had its exciting moments; the albums Kenton’s West Side Story(arrangements by Johnny Richards) and Adventures In Jazz, each won Grammy awards in 1962 and 1963 respectively. Kenton Plays Wagner(1964) was an important project, produced in concert with his interests in jazz education and encouraging big band music in high schools and colleges instructing what he called “progressive jazz.” Stan knew what he had in the body of work that was The Stan Kenton Orchestra and in the remainder of his life and career, he took on the challenge of ensuring his legacy that was Progressive Jazz.
A somewhat ironic twist to his jazz roots emerged in his 1962 single “Mama Sang A Song“. His last US Top 40 (#32 Billboard, #22 Music Vendor), the song was a narration, written by country singer Bill Anderson. He re-released it in the 1970s on his Creative World label.
In the early 1970s Kenton split from his long-time association with Capitol Records and formed his own label, “The Creative World of Stan Kenton”. Recordings produced during the 1970s on this new label included several “live” concerts at various universities and are a testament to his devotion to education. In addition, Kenton made his charts available to college and high-school stage bands. When Kenton took to the road during the early 70’s and up to his last tour, he took with him seasoned veteran musicians (Willie Maiden, Warren Gale, Graham Ellis and others) teaming them with relatively unknown young artists to mentor America’s youth and take advantage of the unchecked energy in those young players while at the same time preserving the legacy of his work as an active art form. New Kenton arrangements (including those by Hank Levy, Bill Holman, Bob Curnow, Willie Maiden and Ken Hanna) expanded the creative foundation that nurtured original musical exploration by these younger artists long after Gabe Baltazar’s “graduation” in 1965. Many alumni became educators and itinerant clinicians caught up in the art of inspiring younger players (Mike Vax, The Baron Jon Von Ohlen, Chuck Carter, and Richard Torres). A few went on to take their musical careers to the next level (Peter Erskine, Dick Shearer) and beyond.
Jack Sandmeier, Road Manager during these years, tells the story of an unusual meeting in a hotel lobby lounge between Woody Herman and Kenton. Unusual because they both toured more than fifty (50) weeks a year “one-nighters,” in order to keep their respective bands on the road, they hardly ever met. In discussing a chronically late band member, Herman said to Kenton…”Fire his ass, there’s thousands of them and only two of us.”
He had a skull fracture from a fall in 1977 while on tour in Reading, PA. He entered Midway Hospital on August 17, 1979 after a stroke and later died.
Join us Friday April 17th at 8pm at the Helzberg Hall for a tribute to the legendary Stan Kenton Orchestra. To purchase your tickets call 816-994-7222 or visit kauffmancenter.org.